Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/178

This page has been validated.
166
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

I have mentioned these species because they are some of our commonest wild flowers, so that during the summer and autumn we may, in almost any walk, observe for ourselves this innocent artillery. There are, however, many other more or less similar cases. Thus the squirting cucumber (Momordica elaterium), a common plant in the south of Europe, and one grown in some places for medicinal purposes, effects the same object by a totally different mechanism. The

PSM V19 D178 Vicia sepium and momordica elaterium.jpg
Fig. 9.—Vicia sepium. The line a b shows the direction of the woody fibres. Fig. 10.—The Squirting Cucumber (Momordica elaterium.)

fruit is a small cucumber (Fig. 10), and when ripe it becomes so gorged with fluid that it is in a state of great tension. In this condition a very slight touch is sufficient to detach it from the stalk, when the pressure of the walls ejects the contents, throwing the seed some distance. In this case, of course, the contents are ejected at the end by which the cucumber is attached to the stalk. If any one touches one of these ripe fruits, they are often thrown with such force as to strike him in the face. In this the action is said to be due to endosmosis.

In Cyclanthera, a plant allied to the cucumber, the fruit is un-symmetrical, one side being round and hairy, the other nearly flat and smooth. The true apex of the fruit, which bears the remains of the flower, is also somewhat eccentric, and, when the seeds are ripe, if it is touched even lightly, the fruit explodes and the seeds are thrown to some distance. The mechanism by which this is effected has been described by Hildebrand. The interior of the fruit is occupied by loose cellular structure. The central column, or placenta, to which the seeds are attached, lies loosely in this tissue. Through the solution of its earlier attachments, when the fruit is ripe, the column adheres only at the apical end, under the withered remains of the flower, and at the swollen side. When the fruit bursts, the placenta unrolls, and